Post Magazine: Biking in Dominica

Bill Donahue
Special to The Washington Post Magazine
Monday, September 18, 2006; 3:00 PM

Inspired by the people's spirit and the lush island landscape, cyclist and freelance writer Bill Donahue was ready to conquer the hills of Dominica -- and to prove to himself that he had overcome a physical nightmare.

Donahue wrote about his journey for the The Washington Post Magazine , and was online Monday, Sept. 18, at 3 p.m. ET to field questions and comments.

A transcript follows.

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washingtonpost.com: Bill is joining us from the road today and is trying to get online at the Houston airport. He is experiencing some technical difficulties. His chat should start in 10-15 minutes.

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Connecticut: Great article. It sounds like you faced extremely challenging riding conditions. Given that, do you know if a decision has been made as to whether to have guided bike tours in Dominica? My husband and I are both avid cyclists, and in discussing the article we both felt that the conditions might not be attractive to a wide range of customers. Your thoughts?

Bill Donahue: Dominica is beautiful, and John Moorhouse is offering tours. I believe his site is bikedominica.com....but I'd recommend it only to people who are quite fit.

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Fairfax, Va.: I've been to Dominica with the James Madison University alumni group - loved it absolutely. We base in Paix Bouche, which is a remote village area. I cannot imagine a bicycle on most of the roads, as they are so winding and steep. How did you manage with the cars, transports (vans) and trucks? Don't tell me you biked up the hill into Paix Bouche/Moorepark?

Bill Donahue: The trick with biking anywhere without bike lanes is, I think....claim the lane! Go out in the middle of the road and make the cars wait behind you (unless, of course, you are going 4 mph up a steep hill). No, we took a cab into the village of Paix Bouche.

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Falls Church, Va.: Having had a similar experience to you with being a competitive runner derailed by myofascial pain, I was wondering if you have considered writing anything about that whole issue -- all the dead ends you pursued and what "works," but also maybe a philosophical exploration of what the syndrome means. And why biking seems to work. (It seems to work for me too).

Bill Donahue: I have been thinking about writing something longer -- a book, maybe -- along those lines, but as yet I don't have any fully cohered ideas. I'm glad to hear that biking works for you, too. It's a lot gentler on the joints, I think.

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Va.: Can you bring your own bike on the airplane for international travel?

Bill Donahue: Yes, but most airlines charge. Typically, it's about $80 one-way. The League of American Cyclists has a deal with a couple of airlines which offer free bike transport to League members. It may also have info on which airlines are apt to treat your bike with care.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Bill, had you traveled in that part of the world much before? How does Dominica compare? What were you most surprised by?

Bill Donahue: I've traveled around in the Caribbean a bit and I guess I was most struck by how undiscovered and uncorrupted by American consumer culture Dominica was.

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Orlando, Fla.: Great Article!

~ John

Bill Donahue: Hello to John Moorhouse, the Dominican cyclist who is the reigning master of the the verdant hills there!

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Chicago: Bill, when I was in Dominica in the spring, I actually found a "Lonely Planet" guide for the place. It's mainly for snorkeling and diving, though. It was an excellent guide, and sent us to some amazing shore based snorkeling sites. Did you have any chance to get in the water while you were there?

Bill Donahue: Wow. That guide must be new -- I was unaware of it. I jumped in the water only once or twice as I was busy with biking and interviewing. Next time, I hope.

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Maryland: I read your article on the beautiful island of Dominica, country of my birth and childhood. I hope you enjoyed your stay and was also stress free on this island. Since Dominica is the fourth-happiest country in the world, what do you think about the people and the island? What made you choose Dominica?

Bill Donahue: I was unaware of its happiness rating, and am only surprised that it ranked so low. The people there were incredibly kind and generous. And for the most part I think that they were not worn out by tourists. This is, I think, largely because the innkeepers and resort owners there are very attuned to the tenets of ecotourism, which is based on a respect for local people and traditions, as well as a respect for the environment. It was Dominica's strength in ecotourism that drew me...and it's my sense that the island can only continue to sing to tourists if its tourism industry remains green and conscientious. If there's a McDonald's on every corner, it's lost its allure.

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NVA: What was the festival in Paix Bouche? Did you get to walk up into the hills there?

Bill Donahue: I believe it was a tribute to a saint after whom the local church is named. Maybe Paix Bouche native John Moorhouse can help me out here if he's still online? Indeed, I did walk the hills. Very beautiful.

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Fairfax, Va.: You mentioned the airline "dive" into Melville Hall. Exciting, isn't it!! What do you see as the major impediments to more tourists in Dominica, other than the airport?

Bill Donahue: The land is too steep to develop -- or even log -- easily, and the beaches are short and rocky. So I think that Dominica will never lure tourists in search of a big resort suntanning....and those folks, of course, constitutes a large market.

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Madison, Wis.: You said you've traveled around the Caribbean a bit -- is there another island you would recommend for cycling that is not quite so harsh? I'd love to bike around an island, but I don't think I could stomach the mountains of Dominica!

Bill Donahue: Alas, Dominica is the only island that I've biked. I do know that many of the Caribbean islands are pancake flat..

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Roseau, Dominica: Hi Bill,

Pleasure to meet with you when you were here in Dominica. I've done my share of cycling here and wondered if you had any thoughts on the challenges the climate has to offer?

Steve McCabe

Bill Donahue: It was great meeting you, too. The climate made the hills that much harder. And I found that the combo of the hills plus the humidity caused to suffer the world's worst saddle sore. After day 3, touching my crotch to the saddle felt something like being stabbed with a sharp knife!

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Philadelphia: Bill,

I was in Dominica in 2005 diving. We were also amazed at the hiking. Most of the hikes take you to some remote and breathtaking waterfall. I can't easily imagine biking since most of the roads are extremely steep and narrow. Did you specialize in downhill rides?

Bill Donahue: It's funny to think that I would have a "specialty" in biking beyond going to the store to get milk. However, Peter McBride, the photographer who traveled with us, used to be a downhill ski racer and he dusted me on the downhills. I reassured myself that I was there for the uphills--that's where real men proved themselves!!

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Munich, Germany: Dominica sounds like a great spot. How are the accommodations? Can you recommend a hotel in a picturesque fishing village?

Bill Donahue: Scott's Head is a picturesque village, but alas at the moment I can't off the top of my head think of any lodgings there.

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Concord, Mass: Hi Bill, great article! What are the beaches like on the island?

Bill Donahue: To be honest, for the most part, they are nothing great. Short and rocky, with unimpressive surf. The scuba diving is great, but Dominica is not really a place to lay on the beach for long.

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Bill Donahue: Many thanks for having me on the show. I appreciate your questions.

Best,

Bill Donahue

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